The rock ‘n’ roll business is an unforgiving beast.
I don’t know the specific statistics, but it’s obvious that the vast majority of bands see very little success. Among those who do, the shelf-life of a rock ‘n’ roll band is most readily measured in years, or maybe in album cycles. Only very rarely can it be measured in decades… and almost never in half-centuries.
And yet, Hannover’s favorite sons eclipsed their 50-year mark in 2015, although with the caveat that the band as we know it didn’t really coalesce until five years later, in 1970, when founding guitarist Rudolf Schenker was joined by his younger brother Michael and, most importantly, by kingly vocalist Klaus Meine. A progressive-leaning debut album came in the form of 1972’s Lonesome Crow, but the band sputtered to a halt when the younger Schenker departed to join their tourmates in UFO.
All’s well that ends well, of course, and Michael brought UFO to greatness while Rudolf and Klaus merged the remains of the Scorpions with competing band Dawn Road to bring in neo-classical guitar wunderkind Uli (Jon) Roth. Thus from the ashes of the Lonesome Crow line-up, two of the 1970s’ greatest hard rock bands were spawned.
From there, the Scorpions’ history speaks for itself—ever-underrated 70s records, a more pared-down and hugely successful approach in the 80s with Matthias Jabs taking over for Uli, further success in the early 90s with “Wind Of Change,” and then a decline in the commercial fortunes alongside the decline of arena rock itself. But through it all, the Scorpions remained steady and rocked hard, releasing a string of albums that (almost) never faltered. (Let’s be honest: Eye II Eye is mostly nicht gut, but even the worst of the rest is better than most bands’ best.)
As they approach their second (and real) semi-centennial anniversary in 2020, these Scorpions are still going strong—Rudolf, Klaus, Matthias, new kid Pawel, and now Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee behind the kit to give them a little extra sting in the tail. They threatened to retire once, a decade or so ago, but they’re too good for that. They can’t live, can’t live without us, so still they go wherever we like to rock ‘n’ roll, and may we all get as many more years of Scorpions greatness as we can handle. Of their 50 years, I’ve been listening to the Scorpions for 30 of them, and if I had those 30 years to do over, I’d spend them listening to the same Scorpions albums, just as often and just as loud.
In honor of one of hard rock’s all-time greats—and a longtime personal favorite band of mine—I present to you my “friend” Rudolf* and his band of merry rock gods, the Scorpions, with 13 moments of glory…
And a quick editorial note: We know you have a radio, and thus, we know you know “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “No One Like You,” so we skipped those because there is nothing approaching a shortage of great Scorpions songs. If by some unfortunate oversight, you have missed out on those two 35-year-old FM staples, I suggest you rectify that as soon as you’re done with the songs below… [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
*I met him once. He’s awesome. We’re not friends, really—that’s me being silly—but he’s a damned great guy who treats his fans with A-plus respect. You can read more about that here.
Like so many others, Scorpions rocked into my life like a certain extreme weather event, and for a time, that era was all I knew. The average eight-year-old isn’t interested in what was; they only want to know what is and what’s to come. One only needed to go back a couple of years to see just how much more the band had to offer, though, something which age and the evolution of rock radio eventually took care of.
The title track from 1982’s Blackout was never released as a single, but found its way into regular rotations anyway. The opening riff gave hardly a clue to the casual listener that this was the same band. It was sharper, more urgent than its arena-ready sibling. Klaus Meine’s vocals followed suit, departing from his better known melodic croon. Who, or what, was this magnificence? The answer didn’t matter—you were already in full rocker mode.
You probably didn’t even care that the record store clerk laughed at you when you asked if they had the new Scorpions album with that “BLACKOUT!” song on it. You just dutifully paid the man your paper route money for this “The Nice Price” album, went home, and listened in awe, all the time wondering just what else you had already missed from this band. [DAVE PIRTLE]
Scorpions mainstay Rudolf Schenker wrote “Lovedrive”—one of six songs he wrote by himself for the record Lovedrive. To say the song kicks off with a gallop is a bit of a stretch. It’s more of a hip thrust, really. Several hip thrusts. And then Klaus Meine peels off his shirt with a raspy “YEAAAAAAH… WOO” and we’re off to the races. You know, if that race happens to involve… Trying to have sex with a car? Is that what’s going on here? Or is it having sex in a car? With a woman? Who just so happens to have an entire pouch of Big League Chew stuck to one of her hooters? The 70s were a wild time, man, and the Scorpions embraced the leftover “free love” of the 60s by attaching it to fifty thousand lightning guitar solos and a compact but wailing frontman, and then made a lucrative career out of it.
By ’79, the Scorps just wanted to have fun, so they brought in the bubbly Matthias Jabs to replace the more somber and recently departed Uli Roth, then fired Jabs in favor of Rudolf’s younger brother Michael (again), who subsequently quit in the early stages of the tour only to be replaced by—you guessed it—Matthias Jabs (again). PARTYYYYY!
Chaos behind the scenes aside, Lovedrive marked a vital point in the Scorps’ career—a time when commercial success built on catchier rock songs would vault the band to a level of stardom that resulted in sold-out arenas across the globe and the pick of literally any car for carnal purposes. All of that is reflected in “Lovedrive”: infectiousness, promiscuousness, drivin’ fast, livin’ fast, and lyrics that barely fucking make sense. Welcome to the world of zeh Shcorpions. [CAPTAIN]
THE ZOO[Animal Magnetism, 1980]
To write on “The Zoo” is to try to convey one of those musical moments from my youth that changed me. It came from nowhere. I had never heard of the Scorps before this song. I was not prepared for the razor-sharp Schenker V opening, the chill-inducing Meine-led chorus, nor the sleazily heavy power chords. It was unique to me at the time, with my little 8-track/radio combo pressed to my ear. It was a physical moment: It made my head bang. It was an intellectual moment: It sharpened my taste. It was an emotional moment: It thrilled me.
It is now more of a counterpoint to most of the band’s catalog, being both slower and darker than almost any other popular Scorps song. But it stands out all the more for it, possessing a heavy, sexy, dangerous power which, to this day, makes it one of the best metal songs ever recorded. [CHRIS SESSIONS]
ALIEN NATION[Face The Heat, 1993]
In 1991, the Scorpions hit a mid-career commercial peak with the pop-metal mastery of Crazy World, riding particularly high on the success of twin ballads, the zeitgeist-capturing “Wind Of Change” and the moody “Send Me An Angel.” So what did our intrepid heroes do for their next release, Face The Heat? They got heavier—for about five minutes, the heaviest they’d ever been, in fact. “Alien Nation” rides its snarling riffs straight into glory, a pairing of metallic guitar bite and fist-in-the-air crowd-anthem chorus that vaguely reminds of their friends and countrymen in Accept. As always, Klaus’ melodies are instantly catchy, and Herrs Rarebell and Rieckermann lay down a blood-pumping pulse. Still, the indisputable greatness of “Alien Nation” lies in the masterful interplay between Rudi and Matthias. Witness the scuzzy opening riff, and follow it with the simple chug beneath Jabs’ fret-burning, and then get your damn horns in the air when Klaus comes back with that perfect crowd-sing hook. Often overlooked in the Scorpions’ catalog, and mired on a mostly forgettable album, “Alien Nation” showed that these ballad-happy arachnids still had plenty of sting. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
SPEEDY’S COMING[Fly to the Rainbow, 1974]
Being an old bastard, my introduction to Scorps was Blackout. And I was immediately hooked. So imagine my surprise whilst perusing through a BMG record club catalog I found not one but two “best of” comps. Dipshit that I was (note the optimistic past tense) I couldn’t understand how this “new band” already had greatest hits albums, but I immediately spent my lawn mowing money on them and was suddenly immersed in the band’s earliest days. And I was… surprised. This was certainly a far cry from Blackout. Eventually I came to love both collections, and the gateway was “Speedy’s Coming.” It was heavy but infectious, and I couldn’t get enough. On Fly to the Rainbow, “Speedy” was a signal of intent. The Scorps largely eschewed the psychedelia that drenched their earliest work and were hammering out the identity that would carry them through through their classic, pre-power ballad era, and “Speedy’s Coming” was a perfect opening bow. At its core, it is a “keep it simple, stupid” melodic rocker with repetitive lyrics and a few chords. This alone is enough to get the toes a-tappin’. But it’s the flourishes that make “Speedy” really soar. While the screaming lead work is bound to garner the most fawning, the heavy lifting is done by the rhythm partnership of Buchholz and Rosenthal, who layer deft melodic variations and frenetic fills that propel this song to classic status. [MATTHEW COOPER]
ROBOT MAN[Virgin Killer, 1976]
I don’t know what it was about “Robot Man” that made my ears perk up, but this was the first song that clicked for me when my wise elders told me how great The Scorpions were. Sure, I knew the songs, but they were mainly the later ballads the band would write for stadiums and arenas. And I would surely grow to love those songs later on in life, but the early stuff, particularly In Trance, had something that the other albums did not, and many of those charming attributes are found in “Robot Man.”
Klaus Meine’s classic ROBUTT pronunciation is more charming than an umbrella salesman outside of the Hannover Hauptbahnhof, and his voice carries a sexy yet charming swagger that is two parts glam and one part punk. The whole track, in fact, is one of the most up-beat, snap-your-fingers-to-the-rhythm experiences that the band ever created. In short: It’s fast, it’s catchy as hell, and the lyrics make absolutely zero sense (to my non-robot brain, anyway).
The versatility of In Trance is what makes it the most cherished Scorpions album, and while the title track and “Living and Dying” operate on the slower, prettier, and more meaningful side of the spectrum, “Robot Man” is pure fun and absolute nonsense that’ll make you want to boogie. And it’s probably not played very often in bars, but if you ever want to separate true fans of The Scorps from people who merely listen to the hits on the radio, just slide a few nickels into the old jukebox and see who starts dancin’, and who’s a loser. [KONRAD KANTOR]
COMING HOME[Love At First Sting, 1984]
Scorpions have long been among hard rock’s best balladeers, and the intro to the rock ‘n’ roll road warrior tale “Coming Home” is a fun reminder of Klaus’ ability to weave a pretty melody over some simple arpeggios, his voice ringing with the longing for the itinerant life of the troubadour, lost on his between-tour break and empty without the roar of the crowd.
But fret not, rockers, because “Coming Home” isn’t a ballad at all… It’s here to rock you, just like the band that brought it, kicking in at full force after that deceptively soft intro, all high-energy Schenker riff and Matthias shred, while Klaus passionately exhorts you to jump on your chair and put your fist in the air, because, goddammit, this is rock ‘n’ roll and what are our saviors in Scorpions, if not consummate hard rock professionals? The opening number for the Love At First Sting tour – captured perfectly on the classic World Wide Live – “Coming Home” is hard rock greatness about hard rock greatness and guaranteed to get your adrenaline flowing. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
WE’LL BURN THE SKY[Taken by Force, 1977]
A tribute of sorts to Jimi Hendrix, with lyrics adapted from a poem by Monika Danneman, Hendrix’s last girlfriend and, eventually, Uli Roth’s wife, “We’ll Burn the Sky” is a bit of an oddball in the Scorpions’ catalog. The song starts like a typical Scorpions ballad, with some clean arpeggios from Rudolph, a little noodling from Uli, and Klaus softly crooning over it all. The track, however, evolves not into a heavy-handed power ballad, but into something, well, kind of funky. The 80s knocked most of the soul out of the Scorpions in favor of a more straight-ahead, polished hard rock sound, but tracks like “We’ll Burn the Sky” showcase how much organic groove this band once possessed. Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz lock in tight, but loose on a great, skanky Schenker riff. Thanks to Danneman, Klaus has some of the most coherent lyrics of the band’s early career to work with and he, as he always does, sings his ass off. Uli, for his part, spends most of the track coloring the background with some subtle, atmospheric licks, until the solo, that is, where he plays dual lead with himself and pretty much burns the sky. The Scorpions had so much goddamned talent in the band at this point, they could make anything work, and they worked the hell out of this tune. [JEREMY MORSE]
CHINA WHITE[Blackout, 1982]
Scorpions are the band of rockers and ballads. It is known. “Rock You Like A Hurricane” (a rocker) and “Wind of Change” (a ballad) were about the biggest hits they ever had. This was their hit-making MO, but the deep cuts always revealed more, and in the case of “China White,” that “more” was menace. From the moment Herman Rarebell’s drums start things off, it’s clear that this tune isn’t out to play nice, a truth only further hammered down as the massive, mean main riff rings out like an air raid warning. When that riff evolves into something rhythmically off-kilter, the song reaches a threat level that refuses to let up—slow, perpetual, and inevitable. Klaus Meine elevates the intensity through a performance that feels just slightly unhinged (at least by his standards), singing lyrics that could just as easily be about a friend’s struggle with substance abuse as they could global drug wars. It’s a harrowing bit of songwriting on its own, but also a reminder of just how great the band could be when handling darker subject matter and giving it music to match. [ZACH DUVALL]
PICTURED LIFE[Virgin Killer, 1976]
“Pictured Life” represents the basic Scorpions strength: perfect pop metal. This song is as friendly a number as any Stones or Beatles single, and just as catchy. But it also involves the chunky, wall-ish guitar sounds that Schenker and Roth were such masters of. Foreshadowing “No One Like You” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by several years, this was essentially the sound that made the Scorps such bankable powerhouses in the 80s. The rhythm guitars punch hard for 76, and Roth’s dazzling runs at the end of each lyric add depth to the formula. Of course, the chorus is a perfect pay-off, and of course, Uli’s leads are ridiculous. This is, essentially, a perfect blend of access and excess to which almost every successful metal band in the early to mid 80s owes a debt. [CHRIS SESSIONS]
STILL LOVING YOU[Love at First Sting, 1984]
The 80s were the decade of the power ballad. If a rock band had a crossover pop hit, odds are about 100 percent it was with a power ballad. The truth is most of these so-called power ballads were just sappy love songs; all ballad, no power. “Still Loving You” is different. “Still Loving You” is the only ballad that will make me run through a fucking brick wall. It’s an achingly beautiful tune to be sure, but it’s not a sappy love song, it’s a song about a relationship gone bad and the urgent need to save it.
While the tune’s tone is tender and delicate in the beginning, the imagery is grim and even a little violent: “Your pride has built a wall”, “the things that killed our love.” As the song progresses, the clean arpeggios of the intro and verses increasingly give way to the crushing weight of distorted power chords, and the mood becomes increasingly more frantic. By the end Klaus is pleading, desperately clinging to this dying love like a drowning man to driftwood: “Is there really no chance?” “This can’t be the end.” Finally, after nearly five minutes of aching buildup, “Still Loving You” reaches its heart-wrenching, namesake chorus, and Matthias Jabs rides out the closing vamp with piercing, smolderingly intense licks, that echo the lyrics’ sense of desperation.
The Scorpions had been perfecting the power ballad while most of the hair metal bands were still in grade school, so it is no surprise that these German veterans made one of the greatest power ballads of the decade, before most of the mascara-wearing competition even got started. [JEREMY MORSE]
THE SAILS OF CHARON[Taken By Force, 1977]
I’d been on the Scorps train for a year or so when I first heard Taken By Force. Like most of the world at the time, I was enamored with the hard-edged version of the band dominating the airwaves with tracks from Blackout and really just wanted more of that. Taken By Force didn’t give me much of that, of course, which was disappointing (although I came to love it for other reasons over the years), but it did give me my first good look at just what Uli Jon Roth did for the band while he was with them, and nothing on this album shined a light on his talent quite like “The Sails of Charon.”
It’s a pretty odd song when you really look at all the weird little pieces of it but, good lord, the whole of “The Sails of Charon” ranks among the very best of all the great songs Scorpions ever made. It’s Uli’s song and he owns it from the get-go, filling almost the entire first half with his ideas on guitar. Even the eerie sounds that sweep and scrape through the opening 30 seconds are all Uli’s guitar sounds. They conjure The Ferryman and with him the exotic intro riff. When the second riff hits, it gives you a sense of what this song is all about, riding itself up and down the scale in increments, building tension and resolving it within the measure but never for good, and culminating with 45 seconds of dark and slithering solo. It’s at the height of that solo that Klaus joins, along with the main riff, and the epic glory of “The Sails of Charon” is revealed. Though relatively brief when you strip away the intro and outro effects, this song feels every bit as grand and sweeping as contemporaneous monsters like “Stargazer” and “Beyond the Realms of Death.” Nowhere is this more clearly manifest than in the magnificent run through the final verses as Uli amplifies the mystery of Klaus’ words, somewhere between harmony and counterpoint, before disappearing into the same shadowy smoke from whence they came. [LONE WATIE]
IN TRANCE[In Trance, 1975]
The title track from the Scorpions’ landmark third album has a rather conventional structure and largely simplistic riffs, and yet it might be the single most magical thing this legendary band ever put down on tape. Everything about it just feels… easy, and not “easy” in the sense that a beginner could pull it off, but that it was easy for this band to record something so beautiful using such simplistic elements. It was the surest sign that they were entering their creative peak—a creative peak that would last a decade and culminate in rock world domination.
Amid sparse clean guitars, the golden pipes of Klaus Meine emerge, communicating a scene that is simultaneously mysterious, haunting, and warm. The chorus maintains the feel with an equally great Meine melody, punchy riffs, and just a hint of underlying organ. This is all wonderful, as is the trill- and legato-filled Uli solo, but it is the song’s coda that takes it from merely gorgeous to downright immortal. At one point everything drops, leaving Meine alone (or rather, dueting with himself) for some soft, wordless wails before the instruments come back in with an unforgettable release of emotion and energy. When Meine rejoins, it becomes the best moment on the best song on arguably the greatest record in the 50-plus years of Scorpions music. That’s no overstatement, folks. [ZACH DUVALL]